We arrived in Miami on 2/6/08 and took a taxi to the Newport Beachside Resort in North beach Miami. I booked through priceline and got a great deal. It was right on the beach and although the rooms were definitely not the 5* it was a great location and the staff was very helpful. They had a kids program that was fantastic and even some adult games during the day like water balloon tossing and bingo. The food was not very good and it was expensive but everything else made up for that and we just walked across the street to the mall which had a subway and Mexican food.
We took a taxi to the port on Friday and arrived around 11 am. Embarkment was a breeze! We were on the ship in less than 30 minutes.
We checked out the ship and it is beautiful. Everything looked new and the staff worked all hours day and night to keep it looking that way. We went down to the Bliss and played the Wii and then went and ate at the Garden Cafe.
Our room was an interior on deck 10 and although it was small was laid out well. I knew what I booked so did not expect something else. We do not spend much time in our room so I was happy with our choice! This was a great location. We were close to everything. They have free laundry a few doors down you just have to purchase or bring the soap. Many people did not know they had a couple laundry facilities and paid the $20 per bag that the ship offers....others probably just did not want to do laundry on vacation but we didn't mind.
I really liked the Freestyle concept and knew from reading reviews that there are bound to be some glitches. We are pretty easy going so if one place was not available we had no problem switching to another. We ate at a couple paid places ...The Lotus Garden ($10 pp) and Teppanyaki ($20 pp). I thought both were very good. Teppanyaki had a great show and the food was definitely better. We also ate at the free restaurant's like the Blue Lagoon (not so good), Mambos (we really loved the II Popo), the Garden Buffet (thought it was great, good variety) and the Summer Palace (good). Overall we loved the food and thought it was better than our Carnival and RCI cruise. I know food is very subjective!! There were times when I tried to book a specific restaurant but it was full but that was not a big deal. You can book for that day and the next at different locations or by phone. The chocolate buffet was awesome!
The days at sea were beautiful! It was sunny and sometimes a quick rain shower would swing by but only for a few minutes and it was back in the 80's. The pool area is smaller than previous cruises and the way that it is set up only about 100 chairs can fit around the pool areas. They do have many tables and chairs under the overhangs on both sides but it was impossible to get a chair near the pool. There are plenty of other decks if you don't mind being away from the pool. The water slide was really fun! I do not think they have very many activities planned definitely not as many as my previous cruises. The pool band was great I wish they had been out on deck more!
The Casino was fun. I am not a big gambler but they had a program where if you signed up (for free) for their Casino Club (you got a card and put it into the slots or gave it to the table game staff) you got points and free drinks at certain times....which was quite a bit. It cut down on our bar bill and it was fun to play the 2 cent slots! I won a few times lost a few times but had free drinks! Very fun but it was quite smokey at times.The staff worked extremely hard. Our room stewards were up early and working all day and into the night. Everyone was nice but seemed tired (who could blame them). They did not seem as upbeat as the other lines we have cruised. They did not seem to have any breaks!!
Our 11 yo loves to meet the kids from the Kids Clubs. He is an only child and loves to be social. We found out there were only 90 kids on board which includes all 17 and under I think. There were only a few kids in his age group so his 10-12 yo group was combined with the 6-10 yo's. This is quite a big age group. This is no fault of the cruiseline it just happened there were not very many kids! He did have fun and enjoyed the kids he met. I think the RCI kids program is better. It had many more games and the staff always was excited (or appeared to be :) happy) to be there. My son said some of the staff members did not want to be there and showed it. I heard from many other parents the same kind of complaints. I really enjoyed some of the kids crew staff. They were funny and nice but others were definitely not wanting to be there!
Ports of Call:
Samana: Beach day through NCL. It was worth going although I hope they improve the food offered the hamburger was still bloody (ewwwwwww) and when I switched to the hot dog....well lets just say it was kinda yucky:) My son had a blast playing in the waves but it was not the blue water you find in other places. We got there at 10:30 am and the first shuttle back it not till 2 or 3 pm.
Tortola: We did the Baths. Wow! They were so gorgeous! We hiked back to the beach through the big rocks and over ladders, etc. It was well worth it. The snorkeling was outstanding!! We had fish just hanging out with us!
Antigua: We did the ziplines. It was really fun! It rained on and off mostly off. We had people of all ages in our group.
Barbados: The Boat Yard. This is $15 pp. You get a chair and a free drink a taxi ride back....plus a beautiful view. We had a wonderful time and highly recommend going. We got there about 1030 am and it was mostly families...after 1 pm it got a little wild with people doing shots and it had loud music. We didn't mind but just info for people that might. This was all happening in the bar and it is behind you but it was pretty nuts! Kinda like MTV spring break!St. Lucia: We did COSOL tours which we booked though the internet. We rode in a bus with almost all cruise critic members! What a hoot that was! It was an amazing tour. There are tons of windy roads...in fact pretty much the entire 5-6 hours you are going up and down mountain roads and it was a little long for my 11 yo son but he is an antsy guy so if your child is not quite so hyper it might be easier. The tour guides were outstanding. We had "Bumpy". I highly recommend this tour as you see all the major places and the snorkeling in the end was beautiful.
OK this is a really long review and I missed some stuff I am sure but overall we had a wonderful cruise. If you cant have fun on a cruise I am not sure where you can! I hope they improve the kids club but I love the freestyle and will be back on NCL!